Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Professor Trevor H J Marchand

Key information

Department of Anthropology and Sociology Emeritus Professor
BSc (Arch) BArch (McGill) PhD (London)
Email address


I am an Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, independent researcher and consultant, and Action Learning facilitator. My subject expertise is in space, place and architecture; craft knowledge, skill learning and apprenticeship; and embodied cognition communication.

A decorated zaure entrance to an extended-family compound in Zaria, Nigeria. Photo THJ Marchand 1992.

After completing studies in architecture (McGill 1992), I received an Award from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to conduct independent field research with mud masons in the Hausa Emirate of Zaria, Northern Nigeria. The 18-month project examined traditional building practices, craft skills and apprenticeship training – topics that have remained central to my work as an anthropologist.

My PhD in social anthropology (SOAS 1999) was grounded in ethnographic and historical data collected during a 13-month apprenticeship with minaret builders in the South Arabian city of Sana'a. That study resulted in a first monograph, Minaret Building & Apprenticeship in Yemen (2001). With the start of Yemen’s Civil War in 2015, and with funding from the MBI Al Jaber Foundation, I curated an exhibition on the country’s extraordinary architectural heritage, titled Buildings that Fill My Eye. Accompanied by a new edited volume and an educational programme, the exhibition opened at the Brunei Gallery in London (2017) and subsequently travelled to the Museum of Oriental Art in Turin (2017) and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (2018, attracting an estimated 250,000 visitors).

In 2001 I resumed fieldwork in West Africa, this time labouring and apprenticing with a team of mud-brick masons in Djenné, Mali. The study was supported by the British Academy, and resulted in a second monograph, The Masons of Djenné (2009). The book was recipient of the Elliot P. Skinner Award (Association for Africanist Anthropology), Melville J. Herskovits Award (African Studies Association), and Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology (Royal Anthropological Institute).

Further research with Djenné masons generated a special issue of the IAI journal Africa, titled Knowledge in Practice (2009, co-edited with Kai Kresse); a first documentary film, The Future of Mud: a tale of houses and lives in Djenné (2007, co-produced with Susan Vogel and Samuel Sidibé); and a major exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects titled Djenné: African City of Mud, accompanied by a public lecture series (2010). More recent studies with the mud masons resulted in a second documentary film, Masons of Djenné (2013), and a long-running exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Mud Masons of Mali (2013 to present, co-curated with Mary Jo Arnoldi). 

In 2005 I was awarded a 3-year ESRC Fellowship (RES 000-27-0159) to study craft knowledge and vocational training among fine woodwork trainees in England. I again employed an apprentice-style method to investigate skill learning and practice and to document social relations, professional aspirations, and the economic challenges to succeeding as an independent furniture maker in the UK. Fieldwork was carried out over a 2-year period at the Building Crafts College in Stratford, East London, earning me a City & Guilds Diploma in fine woodwork. The project yielded a detailed ethnography of training and craftwork (The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work, forthcoming), and numerous publications that include comparative analyses with craftspeople in Arabia and Africa. The study also allowed me to advance a theory of embodied cognition and communication grounded in Dynamic Syntax theory and cutting-edge research in the neurosciences. I organised a lecture series and a workshop on ‘learning and knowledge’ that resulted in a special issue of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, titled Making Knowledge (2010).

In 2013 I took up a one-year British Academy mid-Career Fellowship to further my studies with woodworkers. This time I focussed on the complex and evolving relationship between the human brain, hands and tools; and, relatedly, on bench-based problem-solving with tools and materials, and in the flow of practice. Included in the outputs is the edited volume Craftwork as Problem Solving (2016) and the documentary film The Intelligent Hand (2015), which is featured on the RSA Inequality in Education Network website and can be viewed here

My ongoing research with craftspeople ultimately aims to expand popular definitions of ‘knowledge’ and promote greater appreciation for skilled work. In 2014, I was awarded the Rivers Memorial Medal by the Royal Anthropological Institute for my contribution to the discipline; and elected to the College of Lecturers of the Association for Preservation Technology International (APTi).

I left my post at SOAS in 2015 in order to dedicate more time and resources to research, writing and creative work. Recent research included fieldwork with Ugandan-British artist Andrew Omoding, documenting his creative processes and problem-solving strategies. The results were featured in an exhibition, Radical Craft, which toured the UK for 20 months in 2016-17, as well as in numerous publications and my film The Art of Andrew Omoding (2016), which can be viewed here. Research with artists and dancers has taken me into the field of embodied mathematizing.

Included among the many committee positions and administrative posts I have held, I served as Publications Officer and Film Officer for the Association of Social Anthropologists; was a long-time Trustee of the Firth / Radcliffe-Brown Fund; an Arnold Rubin Book Award jury member; and a Council member of the Royal Anthropological Institute, as well as a member of the RAI Publications and Research Committees. I was the Anthropology Research Tutor at SOAS for 5 years and supervised 18 PhD students to completion.

I am currently a Trustee of the Paul Oliver Vernacular Architecture Library (POVAL) at Oxford Brookes University; an advisor for the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP); an Honorary Member of the European Federation for Architectural Heritage Skills (FEMP); Lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America tours; and a Consultant for ICOMOS on the recovery and reconstruction of (world) heritage. I am also introducing Action Learning methods in the anthropology of work and business.


Contact Trevor